SCANDINAVIAN MEDIA: TV ads still leave the nordics cold

Negative attitudes and low penetration all contribute to making Northern Europe an elusive market. David Reed finds that the introduction of per-spot ratings will bring changes

Negative attitudes and low penetration all contribute to making Northern

Europe an elusive market. David Reed finds that the introduction of

per-spot ratings will bring changes

It is common in the UK to say that TV commercials are often better than

the programmes. Scandinavians take a different view. In a survey into

attitudes to advertising carried out in Sweden by Delfi Marketing

Services, two-thirds of consumers had a positive attitude to press ads,

but only 20 per cent were positive about TV ads. This reflects a sharp

deterioration since 1991, when half of consumers were positive about TV.

Part of the problem is that commercial television is still in its

infancy, having only been launched in 1988. The press also retains a

strong hold on consumers’ interests. Per Bystedt, president of TV3

Broadcasting Group, adds that the press has done an effective job at

promoting itself. ‘Its share of adspend is very high and it has been

good at lobbying and promoting the medium,’ he says.

Criticising print media owners for using selective figures, however, he

notes that newspapers’ share of total adspend is disproportionately

high, given sales figures that have been in decline for ten years. But

he also believes TV contractors have failed to make their case

effectively. ‘In Sweden, Norway and Denmark, the potential is in taking

money from the press. What easily happens when the market is growing

rapidly, is that everyone tries to get money from each other. When that

growth stops, they look at their share and try to destroy the

competition,’ he says.

That expansion in Swedish TV spend was dramatic, although from a low

base - up 80 per cent in 1993 and 40 per cent in 1994. If there is a

hesitancy among advertisers now, it is because of what Bystedt calls a

‘hangover’. He adds that ‘TV stations have also become a little

complacent - if the fax is broken, for example, you don’t get any


It is a point echoed by Johan Gernandt, general manager of Observer Grey

in Sweden. Of the country’s national terrestrial commercial channel,

TV4, he says: ‘It is a seller’s market. It opens sales one month in

advance, so you have to struggle to get the best space by hanging on the

phone. If you’re lucky, you might be among the first five or ten


Across Scandinavia, broadcast media owners are realising that, unless

they raise their game, they risk losing both advertising revenue and


This has led to Sweden’s TV4 investing heavily in its programmes, while

Norway’s TV2, which has a 30 per cent share, is under pressure to reduce


Rigid schedules and spot structures have much to answer for. Terrestrial

commercial TV in Scandinavia has historically sold ads in ten-minute

blocks between programmes. The satellite channels follow a pattern of

three- or four-minute programme breaks.

TV3 has just shortened its breaks and is now, according to Bystedt,

‘treating all breaks like babies. We try to put breaks where they are

most effective, instead of having stubborn patterns.’ This is not purely

out of self interest in the face of wary advertisers.

At the moment, channels are rated by viewers. From 1997, they will go to

per-minute and per-spot ratings. This will expose any weaknesses in

schedules and share of audiences. For TV4, in particular, it could be

very damaging, with the result that its ratecard should soften


In Norway, Helle Thorkildsen, media director of Carat Norge, says that

this system is already in place. ‘We pay for the people watching

commercials, so even if there is a drop in ratings during the break, we

don’t pay,’ she says. Prices, though, are still high, with media owners

trying to push them up still further.

But with TV viewing at saturation point at three hours per day, a

slowing in income growth is inevitable. In 1990, Carat estimates that TV

took 2 per cent of all adspend. While this has risen to 18 per cent, it

is predicted to grow only to 21 per cent in 1998. The terrestrial

commercial channels, TV2 and TVNorge, should get a boost as a result of

increased reach. Limited to around 65 per cent of households, a switch

of satellite means that, by the end of 1997, penetration will have risen

to 75 per cent.

Bystedt also expects TV3 to gain from growing reach. ‘Looking at

Germany, it took massive penetration for satellite channels to attract

national campaigns,’ he says. For this to happen, domestic advertisers

will also have to rethink their advertising strategies.

The way Norwegian clients plan their campaigns needs to become more

aligned with that of international brands. ‘National advertisers tend to

think of campaigns. They buy 14 days at high frequency, then it will be

six months before they return. International advertisers think more

continuously at lower gross rating points,’ Thorkildsen says.

In Scandinavia generally, Gernandt agrees that ‘it is easier to take

international clients on to TV’. For multinational brands like Pantene

shampoo, Fairy Liquid (known in Sweden as Yes), Mars or Citroen, TV is

part of how they build equity, whatever the country. Scandinavian

advertisers, such as Norwegian Dairy Time or SAS, are still learning

what television can contribute to their awareness and positioning. As

for consumers, they still have a long way to go before they learn to

love TV ads.

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